tv Tavis Smiley WHUT June 26, 2012 7:00pm-7:30pm EDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with actor jeff daniels. a fictional look at decaffeinated world of cable and is made its debut sunday night on hbo. the show marks his first starring role on a tv series. a conversation with actor jeff daniels coming up right now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
tavis: please welcome jeff daniels back to this program. he is starring in his first regular tv series role in the hbo drama, "the newsroom". some scenes from "the newsroom." >> you are smart, talented guy who is not very nice. >> you want me to like? >> you are terrified you'll lose your audience. you are one pitch away from doing the news in 3-d. >> i need something to sleep. >> why? >> i need to sleep. >> we are not talking about mackenzie. >> can you move your blackberry of the desk? >> i am taking your iq and
talent and putting into some patriotic use. >> it is a just get over the situation. you do not know what it's like in my head. >> all over america, we are seeing the influence of creeping islam. >> we were attacked by sociopaths. name hasn god's happened? >> he thinks you're a sick deviant. >> you will not interrupt me again, sir. >> i did not come here for a session. >> i think you did. >> every second or not current, one dozen people are changing the channel. that is the business you're in. >> if he wants me out of this chair he had better bring more than a couple of guys. tavis: i assume the goal was to get people talking.
congratulations if that was one of the goals. everybody is talking about this thing. >> they know we're out there. water coolers all over america. tavis: are you feeling that? >> we knew when we were shooting this. you're reading this stuff going, ok. this will not go unnoticed. tavis: how does it feel for you personally? you have had some good choices to make indie films. it can oftentimes lead to critical acclaim but not everyone sees the indie work, or no one. >> you succeeded admirably. tavis: this is being talked about by everybody. how does that feel for you personally? >> you are right. the whole indie scene, a lot of
factors go into it because that is where the writing is. they're not try to play the middle of the road. that is the lure of indie films for me. the problem with indie films, i was the dog and pony show. i was out there selling it because they do not have the kind of money that a studio or hbo can put behind something they believe in. that is the difference with "the newsroom." you have aaron sorkin and everything he is writing about. that is we want him to do. you have a distribution behind it because you know people will see him. >> let me ask at the start whether or not you are tired of the grueling schedule of a show like this. >> it is grueling only in that you have to be available to talk about a lot. what is hard about talking about
a piece of crap, that is what you -- is hard. you have a mediocre film that is being rolled out, that is exhausting. this show matters. it will provoke people. it will cause people to talk about it the week after it airs on sunday night. i am ok talking about it. you want are to question, to broken challenge -- provoked and challenge. when you say the show matters -- it may be different from the rest of us. >> we shot 10 episodes, the season so i know where we're going. i think what this does to a lot of people out there on the right and left is to engage them. maybe make them talk about the same thing. and then there is this group of people out there who are no
longer engaged. who do not care. who have thrown up their hands about politics and government and media issues. they're saying i do not get it. as long as i can watch my sports. what aaron does so well and some people have a problem with that, he comes from a big ideas, aspirational, smart people try to do big things and succeeding and failing. that is great storytelling. it is not an accident that the don quixote metaphor is in there. this was never intended to be a documentary. it is a work of fiction last time i looked. in engages people and brings people around, at least gets them talking. maybe about something they have not about or voided thinking about. tavis: you're not bothered by those who think it is you have seen all 10.
you're not bothered by those who think it is too idealistic? >> no. he is unabashedly saying, it is swashbuckling, it is idealistic. what was interesting, too, that is what "the west wing" felt like. this grant, big idea. it could almost turn it into a musical. his world is musical theater and he comes from that kind of aspirational writing style. i think no, that is what we -- we did a screening for a lot of tv journalists in new york. we had guys 40 years have been a producer and i will talk to you after the show. i have been a correspondent on "60 minutes"and i will talk to you after the show. a lot of them came up and said
they hoped that the show focuses on the ideals because they fight that fight every day and i said, it does. over the 10 episodes, it does. tavis: you have been doing the media around -- round . "the new york times." he take the series and trims -- tries to frame it in a world -- real world way. he tries to draw some parallels. if not advancing -- if we wanted news and we wanted hard news, he makes the case in the peace that cnn might be doing better. where the show has taken us may not be where americans want to go. do we want to real news? >> exactly.
this is not an attack on tv journalism. america has to pay attention. they have to wake up and want more information and get information. they have to become informed instead of sitting back on their couch belching. tavis: there is no evidence that there is a craving for that. >> no. there is a craving for reality tv and scandal which is dealt with over the first season and certainly sex cells. and the guys who are in there, the guys who are fighting for the is a bills -- those ideals are going, i know but let's do a story about this issue and try to give the american public more information about something that is not a scandal. that is not in the news today and let's keep flooding a dead horse. -- flogging a dead horse.
that is going on and you are right. do people want to hear it? the point is, you should. you should change your lifestyle and try to be as informed as possible, and i think we are guilty of disengaging. tavis: do you think the television show, even a huge leap pala -- popular television show can impact real-life discourse about news, how we deliver it, how we digest it? >> it certainly -- if it does what it did to me, in shooting it, i came out of it with a greater appreciation of all you guys. and then on the cable news guys, the right and left. this kind of appreciation for fighting speculation versus fact
and double confirmation of fact. i know what they're saying and i know what happened at the morning meeting and how there are a lot of these guys who are fighting for that harder story, that more complicated story and maybe the numbers are telling us we have to stay with the scandal. i have a greater appreciation for everything these guys are doing. this is not an attack. it is more of a love letter but a tribute to those inside all that who fight the fight every day. >> you know what neil is saying. >> i am fictional. what do i know? casting on this, i am no casting expert. i am just a dealer. when i watched this thing i thought it was brilliantly -- whoever the casting person is, congratulations.
from the young producers obviously to you to your ep. and sam waterston, he is amazing. >> i have known sam since the 1970's, early 1980's, we did a play together in new york. a great guy. longevity. the guy has had a career this decade. i want to be one of those guys. when he was brought in, he could not be more perfect. and he is so delightful and the fact that more often the not the character of charlie skinner has had a couple of pops. we shake our heads, we have a big argument in the pilot and sam is a part of it. it was tough. during theok at sam attack because he is so good and
so funny. tavis: all the critics loved jeff daniels and how you plan for the character. how did this happen for you? >> i have been -- chasing television. tavis: you have been chasing television? >> the indie films, i was tired of working hard on movies that no one would see. i need to be in things people see. also this whole cable network thing, hbo and others, that is where the writers seem to be. you look at the shows like "breaking bad" and "homeland," that is where the riders are. i want to be around writing. i said, that is where i want to go. all the sudden last year ago, for rape. we got wind of this aaron sorkin
cable news thing. he was busy winning the oscar for a social -- "the social network." you look at it, i tell my agent now. said, let's do television. get me aaron sorkin, hbo because of the creative freedom. i need to star in it. get me that. tavis: what an agent. >> a good agent. tavis: when you say that one of the things you like on hbo is creative freedom, tell me more about that. we -- there is something happening there, given the stuff
they keep putting out and the fact it keeps resonating. >> it is not just hbo. it is what the best in the busiss do. i can go back over films i have done, directors like roman -- robert altman, johnathan demme, woody. clint eastwood, george clooney. i -- they hire really good people and put them in a situation and stand back. they're in there to guide and help. let's get the best people we can get, put them in a room and ask them what do they need? that is what hbo does. that is what the clints and robert altmans do, arthur miller said i look forward to seeing what my work inspires i and others.
when you have that kind of creative home like to do with an hbo that only makes a guy like aaron sorkin want to write better or may come back to better, to work harder leading up to the day you are shooting. it is very inspiring. it is an ideal. it is aspirational, god forbid. >tavis: we will have a conversation with jonathan demme. >> i love jonathan. he would have the same enthusiasm. tavis: i love that about him and that is why he is on this program friday night. are you a news junkie? would you say you are a news junkie? >> i kind of became a news junkie around 2000. the presidential election, and became immersed in the 24-7 of it all through primaries and things like that. i mean, i am. i have -- i can kind of see how
they're feeling. they are waiting for the next breaking news ellerbe. it is different than we had walter cronkite way back when when it was 6:00 p.m. to 630 and that iit. now it is all the long. i am a bit of a junkie to a point. that i have to sleep. tavis: i do not know that this ever is the case because he is such a great writer. when you look at the script and there is something that sorkin wrote that ought to be changed, does that happen and how do you see that to aaron sorkin? >> very quietly and usually through someone else. a lot of players in between. it cannot be traced back. -- a lot of layers in between. this comes from doing theater
and speaks to the cast. there were very smart to cast theater people who could handle that dialogue and know that when the writing comes in, that is what you do. that is where you learn, every word. it is not restrictive. it is very liberating in a way because i do not have to write it, i do not have to paraphrase or come up with some better joke like you would if you are on a movie where it has been written by a lot of people, some of whom are not even writers. you do not have that problem here. you have a singular voice saying, this is what you say. and aaron will tell you. if you know your words, you'll be much happier with your performance ago learned the words. and there is a rhythm to it. like all the great writers, all the way back to shakespeare. there is a rhythm to aaron sorkin, mamet. once you get him going add up to pace, it is like music. you can feel the rhythm of it. i find it a huge relief to get
handed the script, thank you very much, and my job is to throwed against the land and make a decision about whether it is right or wrong. tavis: i do not know if i have talked to many -- and the actor who worked with sorkin who has not had something to say about the massive number of walk and talk scenes. you seem to of master that. what are your thoughts about the walking and talking that he loves so much? >> i am usually behind a desk. what i am having those arias. the walking is done. so that is ok. i look at it as an action sequence. in a way, it is, -- it is like a purple car chase. -- walking car chase. it is word for word.
when we enter we're coming in on where we are supposed to come in. there is a precision to that when you do it properly can be very compelling and exciting to watch. it is kind of like an action sequence. in "speed," i would come around the corner, look out, lung. -- lunge. tavis: how does the euphoria i expect you are feeling now compared to the euphoria out you get on stage? >> it is different. the stage is different. you have your opening night. it should be this wonderful, incredible celebration but you still have to dot. you still have to show them that, by the way, this is why we
are celebrating our cells. you have to deliver the goods and deliver them eight times a week to prove that if they tell you good things, you have to prove them right for eight shows. this is, what i love about this, the television series thing, we have a 10-hour movie. in my mind, it is a 10-hour movie. 10 hours to platell the story. it is like chapters in a novel. all the way through. the euphoria of last night's premier, what is cool is, six days from now, there is another one. and i know it is coming. it is a cool thing to have in my world a movie opening every seven days. tavis: what is the benchmark of success on this project for you?
>> aside from provocative and people talking about things with each other, they have not done so for a long time. that would be the whole general thing. personally as an actor, and discos every time, you want to do it in a way is definitive. the biggest compliment i think an actor can get is, i cannot imagine anyone else in the role and that will take some time over this season and i hope other seasons. i cannot imagine anybody else doing with martin sheen did in "west wing." there are performances like that. they are definitive. you eliminated anyone else and that is tough to do in a competitive business with a lot of great actors out there. if i started to hear that especially from peers down the road, i would be happy. tavis: speaking of persers, you
are getting there. you have a few years under your belt in this business. >> thank you. tavis: i was reading in our research for the conversation the next year, 30 years since "terms." one is the last time you have seen that? >> i have not seen that. i just got twitted. usually, any movie of mine that comes on, i go, that is great, that is terrific and i leave the room and the kids go, "dad, you were young." tavis: speaking of the kids. have you heard anything from the guys at the lumberyard about the premier? >> no. a couple of them. my dad and brother run a lumber
company in michigan and i used to work there. i would deliver cement, drywall, things with wood. i am the oldest son. you would think that i would be taking the business over, but there was absolutely nothing -- nothing stuck. i cannot tell you how they build that. i do not know, i do not care. that became very evident. in 1976, i said i think i will move to new york and be an actor. dad was like, "good." tavis: it worked out. the new show is "the newsroom." i cannot wait until this weekend to see what the episode is bringing. i am loving it so you have one fan here. good to see you. that is our show for tonight. thanks for watching.
until next time, keep the faith. >> it is not the greatest country in the world. that is my answer. >> i am taking medicine for vertigo and i think it works because i have got it. >> the reason i am raisinleavin. your personality. quex down not tell me you are here to interview for my job. >> i have to get a couple of things straight. >> why did you not tell me there was some kind of problem with you and will? >> what is coming? >> would somebody hit him with a stun gun? >> >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with kirsten johnston.
that is next time. we will see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. >> be more. pbs. pbs.